Optimism, and concern, as National Disability Insurance Scheme launches in Loddon region

The Capital in Bendigo hosted the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Loddon region on Thursday. Picture: DARREN HOWE
The Capital in Bendigo hosted the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Loddon region on Thursday. Picture: DARREN HOWE

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THE official launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Loddon region on Thursday was met with optimism – but also some uncertainty.

An estimated 5300 people are expected to transfer to the NDIS in Bendigo, Loddon, Campaspe, Central Goldfields, Macedon Ranges and Mount Alexander council areas in the coming years.

Dozens gathered at The Capital in Bendigo where they heard more details about the transition to the new system, which allows more people with disabilities to choose their support.

The Loddon launch coincided with the release of a report from National Disability Services that highlighted 24 glaring issues with the current NDIS model.

The report found the NDIS was being rolled out too fast to cope with the increase in demand, the required $22 billion per year could cause future funding problems and the online services were consistently failing.

They also found the level of training for co-ordinators was often insufficient, and people with disabilities were not being given enough say in their own packages.

Victorian disability minister Martin Foley said the NDIS was the largest social reform since Medicare, and there were bound to be issues in its roll out.

“In a scheme of this size, there is always going to be bumps in the road and this scheme will roll out over the next two years,” he said.

“We’re confident that we will stick to the schedule because we made promises to people with disabilities in 2013 that we would deliver this national scheme.

“Making sure that the workforce in disabilities is there on the ground is a real challenge. The specialist disability workforce needs to double over the next four years.”

Mark Sweeney, the general manager of regional operations for the National Disability Insurance Agency, said the take-up rate for the NDIS had far exceeded expectations in the first three regions – Barwon, north east Melbourne and the central Highlands.

NDIA general manager for regional operations Mark Sweeney speaks at the Loddon launch. Picture: DARREN HOWE

NDIA general manager for regional operations Mark Sweeney speaks at the Loddon launch. Picture: DARREN HOWE

The NDIA has established an office in Bendigo as part of the roll out in Loddon.

Mr Sweeney said the new system was far more targeted for people with disabilities.

““That’s more Australians that don’t have to be struggling through a rationed system or, as the minister said, are on a waiting list,” he said.

“One of the elements will be a faze in approach – when is my time to enter the scheme? You can’t bring 500,000 people in overnight, it needs to be programmed. That way you get better quality outcomes.

“It was a bit of a struggle in that first six months, but we did bring in double the amount of participants in that time.”

While there had been criticism of some aspects of the NDIS, Mr Sweeney said it remained a learning process.

He provided examples of people who been able to benefit from the roll out for their family.

“The first one was a carer, or parent of a person, that went through local area co-ordinator process,” Mr Sweeney said.

“At the end of the day, that parent is... going to become a local parent co-ordinator. Isn’t that a fantastic outcome? To come from being a carer, to being able to help others through the process.”